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Do the Chargers have the NFL’s best defense?

I love it.

The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia posted his rankings of all 32 NFL defenses headed into the 2020 season and he has the Los Angeles Chargers ranked second. Second!

For the most part I think rankings have to be discarded as nothing more than throwaway, recyclable filler (that I happily partake in myself) and ultimately don’t carry any weight into the real world, but I have to an extend to “Way to go” to Kapadia for taking a stance that was probably not going to be popular.

Imagine fans of the Steelers (3rd), 49ers (6th), or Patriots (9th) having to reconcile how the defense ranked 14th in points allowed and 21st in DVOA (20th vs the pass, 25th against the run) last season ends up being ranked higher than every team but the Baltimore Ravens. But I support the hell out of any writer who projects what he believe will happen and not giving the same boilerplate answers that most media members will give out of fear of being shamed for dissenting opinions.

I don’t know what the opposite of a scarlet letter is (a green number?) but I hope to adorn one on Sheil, who says that he believes the Chargers could have a “49ers-like leap this season.”

They were last in red-zone defense, last in short-yardage defense and produced turnovers at the fourth-lowest rate of any team last season. Those are areas that involve at least some luck and randomness, and the Chargers very well could bounce back. Their talent is better too. Safety Derwin James missed 11 games last season, and the Chargers signed Chris Harris Jr. to be their slot corner. First-round pick Kenneth Murray should offer an immediate upgrade at linebacker, and Linval Joseph is a savvy veteran addition at defensive tackle. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are among the top pass-rushing duos in the league. Scheme-wise, the Chargers played Cover-3 (a three-deep zone with four underneath defenders) at the highest percentage of any team last year. In interviews this offseason, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has acknowledged needing to incorporate more man and more split-safety looks.

The Chargers are definitely getting more respect than teams who went 5-11 the year prior typically get, so projecting them with an improved defense is nothing new. CBS Sports put them ninth, Fansided and Yardbarker said 12th, Bleacher Report came in 14th. But I think that only further emphasizes the inherent — probably often unnoticed and unintentional — need to parrot a narrative and not repeat what everyone else is saying.

It is now common to pick LA as a “sleeper” (paradox) but the number two defense in the NFL? That’s saying something. Last season’s number two defense by DVOA was San Francisco, and they went to the Super Bowl. Seven of the top nine passes defenses made the playoffs and the Chargers don’t even need to climb that high — 10 spots — to get into the top-10.

Can the additions of Harris, Joseph, Murray and the return of James for a full season push them that high? Everyone is already assuming so. Well, almost everyone.

Some like them even more.

I love it.

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